When you were a kid cutting grass in the middle of the summer, pushing a lawn mower heavier than you with the sun beating down on your shoulders, did you ever think there had to be an easier way? Evan Utterback, Owner of Remote Control Landscape Maintenance (RCLM), still recalls the casual thought he had as a kid which would one day set him on the path to entrepreneurship: What if there were remote-controlled lawn mowers, just like cars?
Three years ago in September 2017, Evan Utterback was pacing anxiously around his one-bedroom apartment in need of life-direction. After serving nine years and four tours in the U.S. Army as a 21W10 Carpentry/Masonry Engineer, he had gone back to school to earn a degree in information systems. While working two jobs and going to college full-time, he was financially broke and hopeless about his future. He prayed for guidance and, like a miracle, the childhood thought of remote-controlled lawn mowers came soaring back from his memory.
Evan was on a mission and began researching remote-controlled technology at the local hobby store. He saw the large-scale steering servos and powerful brushless motors with electronic speed controls. Remote-control technology had evolved drastically over the last 30 years and Evan realized the potential of this powerful equipment. Evan purchased an electric lawn mower and began turning his one-bedroom apartment into a machine shop. Every spare minute was spent thinking, evaluating, drawing, and building the aluminum framework on the mower. After countless hours of R&D, burning electronics, and evolving the design again and again, Evan learned what did not work to discover what does work.
Can you go back to when you were a kid in South Carolina and first came up with the idea of a remote lawn mower? What was going through your head?
I was pushing my lawn mower that day and I was so short, the handle went right over my head. The first RC kit that I got was the Grasshopper and I learned how to put all the different parts together, compared to the store bought ones that are assembled and ready to run. From push mowing the lawn and having experience with the RC car, I thought, “Why don’t we have remote control lawn mowers?” And I didn’t give it a second thought for quite a long time.
30 years later, NASA is putting rovers on Mars and recently they sent a bicopter to follow. I thought to myself, we’re still pushing and riding lawn equipment. Why don’t we improve our technology and methodology right here on Earth with remote controlled equipment? Removing the operator from the machine will greatly reduce the impact on the operator’s body; from bouncing on the machine to pushing it around, it’s exhausting in the summer. So I dove into creating my invention three years ago.
Do you remember the first job you had before joining the Army? What did you learn from it?
I worked at Custom Machine & Design as the clean-up and delivery guy. I cleaned up the lathe machines, milling tables, plasma machines, CNC machines, and cut the grass. I wrapped, loaded, and delivered all the cool parts produced by the intelligent team of machinists. I helped with inventory of the tool bin and learned screw head types, thread count, drill bits, metric, standard, dies, taps, and all the different metals. This is what my Dad’s Dad, Grandpa Goff Utterback, understood and worked with after his time in the U.S. Army. My Mom’s Dad, Grandpa Frederick Brady, understood radio frequency and communication. My Grandpa Frederick Brady worked with the Signal Corps and NASA to design and build the first satellite to go into space. That satellite broadcast President Eisenhower’s speech across the nation and really kicked-off the space race. I like to think the characteristics from both my grandfathers combined to create this remote-controlled control arm kit.
How do you apply what you learned in the Army into being an entrepreneur today?
A huge part is understanding leadership. Experiencing the full spectrum of leadership, from good to bad, helps one understand what it takes to be an excellent leader. Being an entrepreneur, I must exercise leadership every day in myself to lead others. This requires foresight, reverse-planning, and step-by-step execution to provide purpose, direction, and motivation. I had the vision of remote-controlled landscape equipment which required the foresight of how it would function, reverse-planning the steps necessary to design and construct, and executing each step to achieve the final product.
How do you apply what you learned in the Army into being an entrepreneur today?
A huge part is leadership. Being told what to do for so long motivates you to find out what you want to do and remind yourself every day. There was no one standing over me, telling me what to do. It really came down to inspiration, building something that did not exist, and knowing what kind of purpose it can serve. My remote control cannot only be bolted onto a lawnmower. It can be bolted onto anything. I like to believe that one day the Army will have remote control mine detectors. So there are a lot of applications that separate the operator from the machine to keep the operator safe, especially in dangerous environments like that.
Can you explain to our readers how your remote control kit works in layman’s terms?
There are three parts to understanding this assembly: the machine, the kit, the electronics. My aluminum kit combines a piece of equipment (lawn mower) with today’s incredible remote-controlled electronics. The brushless motors are powerful and rotate up to 21,000 rpm! I designed my control arm kit to reduce the speed of the motor and make it as stress-free during operation as possible. My design has two one-piece, chain-drive reduction sprockets which provide a smooth, stress-free start/stop/reverse of the motor. Since the motor is stress-free, the ESC stays stress-free and does not get hot. Since the ESC is stress-free, then the battery can experience a calm, smooth discharge and maximize run-time. It is that simple, but a very challenging process to discover what works. The control arm can be made as a stationary mount to hold the wheel straight or as a pivot mount to be able to turn the wheel. From this design, we can configure any kit to any machine, upscale for size of machine, and modify the sprockets for speed/torque preferences.
The RC electronics have three wires: ground, power, signal. For a RC vehicle, the battery connects to the ESC which provides power to the receiver (Rx), and the Rx provides signal from the transmitter (Tx) to the ESC for forward/reverse operation. The Rx also provides power and signal to the steering servo. With this application on my kit, each device needs its own power supply and the Rx only needs to supply signal to each device. The power wire from each ESC is removed from the harness so they don’t feed into each other or overpower the Rx. A Rx battery supplies the Rx with power, so it only needs to focus on sending signal to each device. The Rx battery also supplies the steering servo with power because the Rx power is not enough. With this setup, each device is supplied its own power and the Rx isn’t overwhelmed, making every device happy and fail-free.
The machine functions as the manufacturer made it, but we can modify it to be controlled from the remote (Tx). Today’s remotes range from 2 to 20 channels and are programmable! One channel is forward/reverse, the second channel is left/right, and other channels can be dedicated and programmed for other functions. The third channel of the remote can be connected to a servo and programmed to control the on/off of the machine (mower blade).
Understanding the three parts of this assembly allows the imagination to explode into the plethora of applications and capabilities for the future of equipment. We are now able to reduce impact on the operator by separating them from the machine while improving safety and efficiency. Combined with First-Person-View (FPV) technology, the operator is able to view the path of the machine up to half a mile away as if they were riding/pushing it.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting your remote control landscaping business?
The biggest challenge of starting any business is that people don’t know about it. I started RCLM two years ago in 2018 by driving around looking for tall grass on the weekend. I had a full-time job during the week and wanted to be of service to those who needed help maintaining their property. I had an electric push-mower, weed eater, and blower while I saved money to have the one-piece reduction sprockets made at the local machine shop. Most people were shocked to see my push-mower, and listened in disbelief as I explained I created an RC Kit for it. Now they see it in action and still can’t believe what they are seeing.
What are you most excited about for RCLM in the next few years?
Bringing forth technology to reduce manual labor so human beings can improve their quality of life. No longer does someone have to ride a bouncy machine in the hot sun and breath petroleum fumes. The clean and quiet operation of lithium-ion powered brushless motors is providing a healthier, more enjoyable experience to landscape maintenance. Add a remote-controlled machine, and the operation evolves to an entertaining level never experienced before; its fun! I really enjoy operating this remote-controlled lawn mower and appreciate the labor and impact it relieves me of! I know others will love it too!
Do you plan to release your remote control lawn mower nationwide?
Absolutely! My vision is to evolve the entire nation. I want everyone to experience todays technology. This kit is just the beginning of an incredible evolution in machines, processes, and maintenance operations. I’m looking forward to all the incredible applications and modifications made possible with this powerful level of technology!
What feeling do you get when you see other people using your remote-controlled lawn mower?
I love it! Watching someone enjoy operating this machine with a smile and the amazement that they experience is really special. It is so user-friendly that anyone from 10 to 60 years old can operate. It is so lightweight that two people can pick it up together without risk of injury. I always think back to my Grandpa and Grandma Utterback and wish I could have provided them a machine like this. They lived in Indiana and the front yard had a steep slope to the road. It was difficult to push-mow and dangerous to operate a riding mower on. I like to visualize both of them sitting on the porch, remote-controlling their mower all over the yard, and getting the biggest giggle out of it.
Learn more about Evan Utterback’s remote-controlled lawn mower at RCLM.
This article originally published on GREY Journal.